Stop the ‘no blankets for the homeless’ ordinance!

The headline made me pause my Facebook browsing. Curious, I clicked the link and read the article that popped up. It described how the city of Pensacola, Florida had prohibited homeless people from using blankets. Florida had an abnormally cold winter that year, making sleeping on the street without a blanket dangerous.

As I read on, I discovered that this ordinance was intended to force homeless people to go to another town in order to “clean up” the streets and parks of Pensacola. Anger turned my stomach into knots. How can people be so cruel? I didn’t understand. The city was more concerned with looking good than helping the people suffering right in front of them.

I switched tabs, and wrote an email to a friend of mine, Mrs. Mitchell. I described the situation in Pensacola and asked if there was anything I could do about the ordinance.

She replied within a few minutes: “Katie, I’m so glad you want to change this outrageous ordinance! Here are some things you can do.” She gave me a list of suggestions including signing a petition and emailing Pensacola’s city council members. “We can even go down to Pensacola, sleep on the street, and get arrested—I’m not kidding.”

I immediately wrote another email to everyone on my contact list and included a link to the petition to overturn the ordinance and a list of the city council members’ emails and phone numbers. Then, I posted the petition link to Facebook and listed the contact information there too. I encouraged my friends to fight the ordinance by signing the petition and contacting the city council.

I didn’t know what would happen or if anyone would respond, but I knew I had to try. At school, I encouraged people to sign the petition. I wrote an article for the school newspaper asking people to support the homeless in Pensacola. I finally decided I had done all I could do and began focusing on my homework, forgetting about the ordinance. Later that week, Mrs. Mitchell found me in Sabbath school. “Katie! Did you hear? Enough people signed the petition and spoke out against the Pensacola ordinance that the city council decided to meet—they voted to overturn it! It’s over. The ordinance is gone!” We had won.

Why did I do this? The year before, I had joined an activist club Mrs. Mitchell had formed on campus. Every few weeks, we met to discuss problems ranging from bullying in school to sex trafficking in Nepal and India. We made action plans to raise awareness for these causes and explore possible solutions to the problems. We left each time with the challenge to intentionally look for ways to make a difference. Before long, we actively searched for ways to end suffering and constantly asked ourselves how we could impact situations.

But does success always come that easily? All I had to do was write a few emails and sign a petition. Fighting that ordinance cost me only a little time. What if it had cost more? Many people throughout history have joined causes. Some causes ended as easily as the Pensacola ordinance did. However, more than a few people gave up much more than a little time. Corrie ten Boom lost her way of living, home, and family. The Freedom Riders sacrificed their health and wellbeing. Sophie Scholl gave up her life.

Some of these people never saw success. They fought for justice and gave all they had, but no matter how hard they worked, success never came. At this point, many people ask, “Is it even worth it?” Is a cause really worth sacrificing energy and comfort simply to watch hard-won victories topple time after time?

William Wilberforce dedicated 50 years of his life to end slavery in Britain. His campaign destroyed his health, damaged his reputation, and nearly ended his career. But he didn’t give up. He fought through the hardships. He gave everything to help a race of people find freedom. All his life he knew failure, but he died knowing success.

So were his efforts worth it? Listen to him:

“Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you; and when your strength begins to fail, and your spirits are well nigh exhausted, let the animating view rekindle your resolution, and call forth in renewing vigor the fainting energies of your soul.”

This was how Wilberforce pushed toward his goal. Even though he experienced failure over and over again, he kept his eyes on success.

Wilberforce not only looked forward, but he also looked around. He saw the distress around him, and identified with the people who suffered. He didn’t fight simply for strangers; he fought for his friends. That’s what kept him going. That’s what made losing nearly everything worth it for him.

I clicked on the “no blankets for the homeless” article because I wanted to make that kind of a difference. I had finally let go of the apathy that plagues so many people today. I stopped ignoring pleas for help and let stories from suffering people break my heart and move me to action. I want to live William Wilberforce’s legacy and fight tirelessly for justice. I may never free an entire race from the bonds of slavery, but I can free individuals from the bonds of suffering. When compared to all the injustice in the world, I may not make much of an impact, and some may ask if so small a difference is worth fighting for. When they ask, “Is it even worth it?” I can tell them, “Yes.”

Because justice is always worth it.

Want to be Involved?

  • Notice: Be aware of what is going on around you. Actively look for ways to make a difference.
  • Identify: Become friends with those who suffer. This is what will keep you going. You may not fight for a stranger, but you will fight for a friend.
  • Research: Make sure you know what you’re supporting. First, research helps answer questions you may have about the topic. Second, it prevents you from being tricked.
  • Plan: Make your plan of action. Brainstorm what you can do to create change. How can you help?
  • Publicize: Tell people. Raising awareness of a cause and what people can do to help will move the cause forward. Call other people to make an impact.
  • Act: Do something. Reinforce your call to action by following through. If people don’t want to listen to you, they will watch you, and that may convince them to help.
  • Persevere: Never give up. No matter how small the difference you’re making seems to be, remember the effort you put forward is always worth it.

This article was also published in the February 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK, our annual special issue written and designed by Union College students. It was written by Katie Turk, a freshman language arts education major from Lincoln, Nebraska. The print version was designed by Ben Holms, a senior communication major from La Salle, Colorado.